Nightmares Illustrated 007
By Wayne Edwards

Nightmares Illustrated, the column for horror comics readers.

I. Always On My Mind…

Like Roger Federer in his first round match at Wimbledon a week ago Monday, I had to make some quick adjustments for this month’s column. The books I was going to review did not arrive in time for me to get through them (damn and blast) so here I am going another way in the wee small hours before the deadline drops on my head. Never worry – there is always plenty to write about.

Here we go.

I made a pledge to myself when Blackest Night wrapped up. I vowed I would not read the follow-up event, Brightest Day. Forget about it, I said. Enough is enough. There wasn’t even enough time to take a deep breath before the bi-weekly Brightest Day series began. Not to mention all the tie-ins, the preliminary list of which makes this new event look bigger than Blackest Night. No way am I getting sucked in again already. I am sitting this none out.

But then I saw the cover art for the first couple issues of Brightest Day. Very enticing. What to do, what to do… OK, how about this: read only the first two or three issues in the main series and none of the tie-ins. That’s not so bad. Just a taste. And I can quit any time I want. As easy as that first promise to myself was broken another was made and there I was reading Brightest Day #1 after all.

You know what happened, right? Brightest Day is turning out to have many intriguing aspects and questions and, of course, now I am hooked. I am still going to try to resist the tie-ins but I don’t have a lot of hope in that regard. I’ll tell you why. After enjoying the opening chapters of Brightest Day so much, I thought maybe I had made a mistake by skipping a couple other recent events. Maybe they were good, too. So, I read 52 and Final Crisis this weekend. The intention was to read only the main series in Final Crisis, but I was reading from the original comics but from a book and it included a mini-series, Superman Beyond. So I read that as well. I have to say I don’t know where all the hate is coming from for Final Crisis because it sang to me (that’s a little joke you’ll get if you read the series). And I absolutely fell in love with Superman Beyond, which is weird because I don’t like Superman at all as a character. Why, oh why? The answer is simple. It was the writing. Grant Morrison really took a lot of chances with the mini and the main series and they paid off. As far as 52 goes, the lead writers are Geoff Johns (who wrote Blackest Night and is a lead writer Brightest Day) and Grant Morrison. It’s a good one, too.

So it looks like I am stuck with at least the main Brightest Day series. This comics reading thing is obviously an addiction so I can’t be held responsible for my actions. The open question is whether to read all those tie-ins. I don’t know. I might just have to take a bullet for you all out there in reader land and read all this material then report back.

Stay tuned.

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II. This Just In…

Spawn Endgame, Volumes 1 & 2. I keep hearing that the numbers have been down for Spawn in the past few years and that this downturn inspired the original creator, Todd McFarlane, to take a bigger role in the book in an effort to pump it up. Thus was born the “Endgame” arc, issues 185-196, collected now in two trade paperbacks. It is the dreaded/cherished staple in long running comics known as the reboot.

I was dumbstruck by issue 185 where Al Simmons blasts off his own head in a stunning suicide. I guess McFarlane was serious about the reboot, huh. With Simmons death, the Spawn curse was transferred to another guy, Jim Downing (maybe not his real name). So, here we go again with Jim trying to figure out what has happened to him, how his new powers work, who he really is, and so on. At this point, I don’t mind telling you I was worried. I didn’t want to relive the discovery odyssey Simmons went through almost twenty years ago (and which was a prominent feature of the Haunt book right recently). That would have been a little bit too familiar. Happily, McFarlane focuses on other aspects of the story and makes the search for answers fairly short and linear. Endgame, then, turns out of be a fine addition to the Spawn series and the reboot portends a shining future.

And yet Spawn without Al Simmons gives me a mildly sick and uneasy feeling. But maybe it is a good thing. Look at Green Lantern, for example. There are a bunch of them (even just for sector 2814), one replacing another over the years, and that worked out all right. In fact, it is quite common, isn’t it, that iconic suits are over time inhabited by different people. The artwork in Spawn continues to be exceptional and the writing is still good. We should be all right.

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Graphic Classics Volume 1 Edgar Allan Poe, Revised Fourth Edition. Graphic Classics is a series of 144-page trade paperbacks that set to illustration famous writings of old. The first sixteen volumes were in black and white only, and the last couple have been in color. The series editor, Tom Pomplun, assembles many different writers (adapters) and artists for each book, so the styles vary, often dramatically, from one piece to the next. The overall effect is consistently good. I haven’t run across a dud in the entire set.

An interesting and fairly unique feature of Graphic Classics is that some of the volumes are periodically revised. For example, a new version of the first volume, featuring stories and poems by Edgar Allan Poe, has just been released. Rather than simply a reprint, 40 new pages have been added to the previous edition. The down side is adding the 40 pages means 40 other pages had to be removed to keep the page count at 144. That presents an interesting collecting opportunity in that each edition is actually quite different.

The art styles in the new fourth edition range from simple to soft to abstract to intricate and all are extremely well rendered. My favorite adaptations are of Poe’s poems, maybe because it is such an unexpected treat. Some of the work is played for laughs and some is deadly serious. The entire package is a delight from cover to cover. I recommend this volume and really all the others in the series. There are several horror-oriented books including Horror Classics, Fantasy Classics, Gothic Classics, H. P. Lovecraft, and Bram Stoker. Along with the Poe volume, you cannot go wrong with any on this list.

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Crossed. My first exposure to Garth Ennis was reading his run on Hellblazer. After that, I started poking around and found Preacher, Just A Pilgrim, Punisher, The Boys, and what seems like an endless list of others. Ennis is a writing machine. I have liked almost everything of his I have read as my taste leans toward his output. Wait. That sounded bad. He writes the kind of stuff I like: violent, blasphemous, and anti-establishment. Also lots of sex.

One of his latest books assembles his ten-issue series Crossed, a sort apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic survival quest franchise. This, of course, is one of the most overworked subgenres in all of comicsdom. We have seen it all before so why sit through another tale of savage violence at the end of the world, we wonder. But we could say the same thing about lots of story types. Why more zombies? Why more vampires? The simple answer is we like it and we always want more. After all, even though you can see elements in Crossed of work that has come before, Ennis brands it with his unique sickness you can’t get anywhere else.

So, one fine day in the world of Crossed everything went crazy. People started attacking other people and committing acts of depraved violence and sex. They were infected by something and they could infect others. Apart from the behavior, you could identify the wicked by the prominent rash that formed in a large cross pattern over their faces. The uninfected, naturally, band together in small groups and travel the country looking for a safe haven. Like I said, not an unfamiliar set-up.

While this might not be the finest work Ennis has ever produced, it does have all the hallmarks of his individual style. The artwork by Jacen Burrows is detailed and expressive. In the end it is probably a good thing the series only ran ten issues because by the finish it was a little played (there is a second series written by a different author but I haven’t read that one). I give it a medium recommendation for Garth Ennis fans and for fans of the apocalypse.

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III. Swamp Report…

I do not really understand why comics collections are often first released in trade paperback form and then later released in hardcover. It is exactly backwards to the way virtually all other book publishing is done. Maybe the paperbacks are a way of testing demand? In any case, directly to you from the swamp this month is the hardcover reprint of volume three of the trade paperback of The Saga of the Swamp Thing, gathering issues #35-42 of Alan Moore’s seminal run on the title. If you have been following my advice at all you already picked this one up because Swamp Thing is one of the best comics ever produced, especially during Moore’s tenure. This newest reprint is particularly noteworthy for the first appearance of John Constantine, Mr. Hellblazer himself. Without delay, grab a copy of Saga of the Swamp Thing Book 3 and put it on the shelf right beside your trade paperback version. They look great together.

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IV. Parting Shots…

Song of Saya. Yair Herrera’s beautiful soft and muted colors contrast wickedly with the bloody violence of the script. Through issue #3 the nightmare images and horrors in action accelerate toward a climax that is difficult to predict, if a little disappointing. It is still worth a read for the visual impact, even with the slight letdown at the end.

I Zombie 1. Delightfully tongue-in-cheek, this one. In the first issues we have a zombie, a ghost, and a vampire exhibited in a tasty retro art style. The end of the set-up was terribly rushed but otherwise this might be good to read for a while. The second issues slows it down a bit and develops the characters and plot a bit more. Gwen, the zombie, acquires the memories of the people whose brains she eats. Sometimes, the memories are strong. In this first arc of the series, Gwen tries to solve the murder of her most recent dinner. The horror is low impact but the entertainment value is high. Recommended.

We Will Bury You. Kyle Strahm’s artwork continues to be the show stopper for this title with its primal Gahan Wilson miasma. The final panel of the fourth issue’s “NOT THE END” slogan tells us another mini is in the offing with another round of blood vomiting and savage disarticulation. It is best to read the first two before committing to the entire series just to make sure you can take it.

Wire Hangers…a promising title. This savage little Alan Robert creation is sure to get under your skin. Violent, creepy, and deeply disturbing, the first two issues of this four-part mini are a sign of good things yet to come. Recommended.

Mystery Society is a light-hearted (or simply goofy) take on a husband and wife team dedicated to exposing the truth about nefarious goings on. It is retro more in a Silver Age way than a Golden Age way. Approach issue #1 with caution. Lower your expectations after seeing it is a Steve Niles / Ashley Wood cohabitation.

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V. Next time…

I’ll try to do what I was supposed to do this time, plus I’ll get extra Creepy, and maybe throw in a little Locke and Key.

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VI. Notes…

If you have review material or suggestions you can contact me at we21011@earthlink.net.


The publishers are as follows.

Song of Saya, We Will Bury You, Wire Hangers, and Mystery Society are published by IDW.

The Boys is published by Dynamite.

Just A Pilgrim is published by Black Bull.

Crossed is published by Avatar.

The Punisher is published by Marvel Max.

All Blackest Night and Brightest Day titles, tie-ins, and minis, Final Crisis, and 52, are published by DC Comics.

I Zombie, The Saga of the Swamp Thing, and Preacher are published by Vertigo.

All Graphic Classics are published by Eureka.

Spawn and Haunt are published by Image.

~#~


Wayne Edwards has been quietly writing, editing, and publishing for the past three decades. He divides his time between Anchorage [Alaska], Burlington [Vermont], and Mysore [India].


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